It’s pretty hard to say ‘I’m a snowboard instructor’ without feeling a tiny bit smug whilst instantly earning the respect of whoever it is you’ve just told! As part of our series of blogs on ways to spend a winter season I thought I’d share my experiences of getting paid to snowboard.
I worked as a snowboard instructor for a couple of seasons and often find myself wondering why I ever moved on from that chapter of my life! It’s a pretty fantasy lifestyle – your work is literally snowboarding, you get to meet loads of new people (all of whom look to you like some snow hero sent from the future) and your co workers are usually legends so there’s never a shortage of people to ride with. Spending a season is all about getting as much time on snow as possible and this is certainly the job for that.
Snowboarding every day, and teaching others to do so no less, undoubtedly improves your own riding. But beyond self improvement, most ski & snowboard schools provide awesome training that will really push you as well as develop your teaching skills. These training sessions are usually run by CASI level 4 instructors and in most resorts are run first thing before the lifts open to the public which invariably means fresh pow pow! These morning sessions are also an awesome opportunity to impress the powers that be and if you shine here the chances are you’ll find yourself teaching better lessons and getting up the pecking order. I guess it’s a little like playing golf with the boss!
Depending on what qualification you have, your experience as an instructor will vary massively. For instance, as a ‘rookie’ CASI level 1 you’ll spend the vast majority of your time on nursery slopes teaching basic board control so people can safely get themselves down the mountain. Although it’s super satisfying seeing a complete novice progress from a super jittery side slip to linking wide turns with an even wider grin, there does come a point where you’ll want to see that progression right through to carving or tornado turns and that’s just not gonna happen unless you get your CASI level 2. If you’re into freestyle then getting your park qualification will further extend your repertoire of lessons.
Having your level 2 qualification will mean you get way more satisfaction from your work. It’s pretty simple really – you’ll be teaching better skills on better terrain to better snowboarders! Not just this but you’ll also be higher up the chain when it comes to lesson allocation so you’ll get more work throughout the season. Which brings me on to the all important question of earnings…
The average instructor can expect to earn around 12-14 dollars per hour basic, plus commission for being requested for private lessons. You are taxed but you can claim this back the following financial year. Being an instructor is never going to make you rich but it’s about the way of life more than the moolah. It’s pretty awesome waking up knowing you have to go to work, but all that work involves is doing something you love and sharing your passion with others!
The amount you work in a week will depend on how much demand there is for lessons. During busy periods you can expect to be working 5/6 days a week, maybe even 7 when it is really busy. When it quietens down you will most likely be on 3/4 days a week. How much you are asked to work will depend on your attitude a lot of the time. It is wise to be flexible on your days off as if you turn down too many offers to work at short notice they will eventually stop asking you and give the work to someone else. Working at short notice is usually a favour to the ski school which means if you then need favours down the line e.g. more hours, you are in a good position to be asking.
As with most jobs in the mountains there is a fairly awesome social aspect to the work – ski & snowboard instructors tend to be fairly fun loving people so there’s never a shortage of people to drink with. Some of my best mates today are the crew I met in the ski & snowboard school – I guess there’s something about the bonds that are made on a pow day that last for a lifetime!
Although it’s difficult to think of a better job to be doing on a season, at the end of the day it’s still a job. You can be sure that there will be powder days when your client complains that they’ve got cold fingers and just wants a hot chocolate! At times like this I remember wishing I was a snow bum so I could just shred all day long, but then this was probably one of the days I opted for a lie in instead of going on the morning session. Doing a season is really all about improving your riding or skiing and working as an instructor is a sure fire way to get the most amount of snow time possible. All in all being an instructor is awesome and I would recommend it massively!
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